February 22, 2017
It can be said without the slightest hesitation that Serge Garant was one of the foremost champions of contemporary music in Québec. After studying the basics of composition with Claude Champagne, Garant traveled to France in the autumn of 1951, where for a year he took Olivier Messiaen’s class in analysis at the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris. It was then that he discovered the most recent works in the contemporary repertoire and made the acquaintance of composers Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Serge Garant was above all known in his capacity as conductor of the Société de musique contemporaine du Québec, of which he became the figurehead in 1966. Dedicated to the cause of the music of his time, he pushed to raise Canadian and Québec music to the level of international repertoire. He also made these works known to music lovers by way of the radio program “Musique de notre siècle” (Music of Our Century), which he presented on Radio-Canada for close to 20 years, in addition to occupying the position of professor of composition at Université de Montréal. A number of composers active today on the Québec music scene are in Garant’s debt for his teaching, which was recognized as exceptional.
As a composer, Garant left a body of work consisting of not many works but rich in consistent quality, each title as though chiseled by a goldsmith of sounds. Serge Garant’s music, whose hallmark is a rigorous and demanding yet paradoxically lyrical spirit, is fascinating to those who take the time to immerse themselves in their sounds.
Plages (Bands) is Serge Garant’s last work. Composed in the summer of 1981 further to a commission from the Orchestre des jeunes du Québec (OJQ), it had its premiere in November of the same year under the direction of the composer. In 2017 the OSM will be presenting the work for the third time.
Lasting about 12 minutes, Plages alternates strings and winds in a pared-down atmosphere. The instrumental colors that Garant releases from these groups are sometimes hazy and dark, sometimes cutting and lively. When the movement gains in energy, the music gains in drama, and that expressiveness is felt in sweeping gestures that break with what is ordinarily a restrained lyricism in Garant.
Some of the composers who had the most influence on him can also be recognized in this piece. The rhythmic sense of Messiaen, as well as his writing for strings, are quite easy to detect, whereas the insistence on certain repeated notes recalls Varèse. Lastly we should note the regular, lilting intervention of the clarinet, which frees itself now and then from the rest of the orchestra, reminding us that Garant was himself a clarinetist in his younger years.
Garant’s notes on Plages:
“All the material is organized on the basis of a unit of five sounds that through successive reversals and inversions give rise to a network of pitches covering six octaves with, at its center, the tritone F–B.
In a single movement, the work consists of five ‘bands’ of musical time, of orchestral colors, where different facets of the material are explored.
1- In the lower register of the orchestra, the original group of five notes, note by note, by successive entries interrupted by pauses;
2- in the high register, an inversion played by the strings followed by a transition played by brass and woodwinds;
3- by the woodwinds, in short rhythmic permutations of the matrix;
4- by the strings, in a more melodic version of the previous section, in retrograde;
5- by the full orchestra, in a very slow tempo.
CODA – Elements from sections 1 and 3 are restated while each string player chooses freely from a large variety of transpositions of the original group…and disappears into silence.
This score is without a doubt the least ‘abstract’ of any I’ve written to this point. And it may very well remain, in my output, a digression.”
-Archives of Serge Garant, reproduced in the Lefebvre book, p. 205.
– La musique de Serge Garant, Éditions Doberman-Yppan, 4 discs, 1992. (DO 133)
– Serge Garant, Analekta, 1996. (AN 2 9804)
– BOIVIN, Jean (dir.). Circuit, musiques contemporaines, “Serge Garant,” Vol. 7, No. 2, 1997.
– LEFEBVRE, Marie-Thérèse. Serge Garant et la révolution musicale au Québec. Montréal, Louise Courteau éditrice, 1986.